Five takeaways from latest Super Eagles call-ups
The Super Eagles of Nigeria are battle-ready for next month's 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier double-header against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, having released their 23-man list for the fixtures.
Here are five takeaways from coach Gernot Rohr's latest call-ups as they prepare for the matches on 1 and 4 September.
NPFL stars notably absent
Save for the inclusion of FC Ifeanyi Ubah goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa, domestic league players were excluded from the latest Super Eagles selection. The coaching crew did not deem any of the outfield players worthy of a spot on the main list, but did settle for three NPFL players on the seven-man standby list. Considering that the Nigeria domestic league is at the tail-end of the season, and the standout players would naturally have a competitive advantage over their foreign-based counterparts who have barely played a month of league action in Europe, this could come back to haunt the national team selectors in the weeks ahead.
No Echiejile competition
Veteran defender Elderson Echiejile finds himself with no direct competition for a spot on the team, a situation which will raise eyebrows across the passionate fan base. The Sivasspor left-back (on loan from Monaco) has been a shadow of himself since his injury in 2014, and has found very little club game-time in the past year-and-a-half. Nigerians might be forced to watch both games against Cameroon with hearts in their mouths considering Echiejile will be in a direct battle with Christian Bassogog, a player renowned for his pace, high work-rate, and skills. However, first-time call-up Ola Aina could offer cover at left-back.
Centre-forward auditions continue
The recall of China-based forward Odion Ighalo, and the exclusion of Henry Onyekuru, Olarenwaju Kayode and Victor Osimhen, appears to indicate Rohr's dissatisfaction with the players who have auditioned for the centre-forward role during his seven games in charge of the Super Eagles. Onyekuru, the flavour of the month towards the end of last season in Belgium, appears not to have earned the faith and trust of the German tactician. He failed to make the match-day 18 against South Africa in June and has been ignored for the September games, despite getting game-time with Anderlecht in the month-old Belgium Jupiler Pro League.
Omeruo left on the sidelines
Centre-backs Efe Ambrose and Kenneth Omeruo both failed to crack the nod for the latest international assignments; the latter only making the standby cut. Omeruo, the 23-year-old AFCON-winning defender, has experienced a downward turn in his international fortunes, despite his early promising signs. Rohr's preference for the relatively inexperienced Chidozie Awaziem ahead of the 31-cap Omeruo for the infamous loss to Bafana Bafana was the first pointer to redundancy at international level. Rohr has taken it a step further by leaving him off the main list, entrusting the trio of Leon Balogun, William Troost-Ekong and Awaziem with the defensive duties. They have a combined 22 international caps, but will be relied upon to shut out red-hot Vincent Aboubakar over both games.
Experience adds massive boost
The inclusion of John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Ighalo has shown that the Super Eagles desperately need their leadership and experience against the African champions. Captain Mikel has only just returned from a long injury lay-off, so his match-fitness might be questionable, but his absence was generally felt in the loss to South Africa. Moses and Ighalo are tipped to effectively combine to create and score the goals, to earn Nigeria maximum points against Cameroon in their quest for a sixth FIFA World Cup appearance.